NFC North: NFL

Charles TillmanGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman and the Bears' defense should benefit from some key additions in 2014.
The Chicago Bears' front office grunted through one of the league's busiest offseason of signings to put the team in position to draft the best player available in May while also minimizing the burden of the potential first-round pick to carry the savior label.

So while the workload won't lighten as the Bears prepare for the NFL draft and the April 22 start of the offseason program, they've unwittingly utilized a core motto of former NFL coach Dennis Green: Plan your work and work your plan. That has led to the Bears signing 30 players since the final week of December, a group that includes 17 returners, 10 unrestricted free agents and three street free agents to drastically improve -- at least on paper -- one of the NFL's worst defenses of 2013.

"I think we'll slow down a tad," Bears general manager Phil Emery said on March 31. "But we have a lot of work to do. We have some positions we want to make more competitive. The draft's around the corner."

Not to diminish the work to be done over the next few weeks, but Chicago's activity up to this point should make things easier moving forward. Headed into the offseason, the Bears needed to address a defensive line that played a major role in 2013 in the defense allowing 5.34 yards per rushing attempt (the league average was 4.10), and did so by signing Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and Israel Idonije, in addition to bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.

The club also re-signed starting corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, while adding to the safety position by acquiring M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy.

So is the defense better now than it was in 2013?

"The obvious answer to that would be we're healthier [than in 2013] because nobody's hurt," Emery said. "Also, I think we've added some guys at key points in their career. Jared adds experience, production, leadership. Somebody like Lamarr and Willie add some youth, speed and [physicality]. Really excited about Jeremiah Ratliff this year. He's excited about playing. He wants to finish here. He added so much the last few weeks [of 2013] in terms of leadership; unbelievably mentally tough player. So yeah, I think the collective group, we've gotten stronger and we're headed in the right direction as far as we want to establish as a defensive football team."

Given the financial commitments to Houston, Allen and Young -- all defensive ends -- it'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Mel Tucker finds ways to get them on the field at the same time. Allen is the bona fide starter at right end, and Houston will play on the left side. But it's likely the Bears will take advantage of Houston's versatility and kick him inside to defensive tackle on passing downs while playing Young opposite Allen at end.

Even without the benefit of the upcoming draft, Chicago's defensive line appears to be a more dynamic group than it was in 2013.

"It's up to our coaches to find ways to get them all on the field at the same time or at different times or different personnel groupings or groupings against personnel," Emery said.

Depending on the direction the Bears take in May in the draft, that task could become more difficult for Tucker. Despite the Bears adding Jennings, McCray and Mundy in free agency, the club could stand to acquire another safety in the draft capable of competing for a starting job; especially with the possibility Chris Conte might miss time at camp after undergoing shoulder surgery.

But the club might see more value in using its first-round pick on one of the talented interior defensive line prospects such as Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, as picking a safety at No. 14 might be a little too high for the team's tastes. Surely, the Bears will address safety in the first three rounds, in addition to adding depth at some point at corner and at linebacker.

Emery declined to say whether the signing of Allen or all the work done to revamp the defensive line will change the club's draft plans -- only that "it's always been about getting the best players possible to continue to build our team towards winning championships. To do that, you have to have high-quality players and players that can make plays. We talked at the end of the season about having more playmakers on our team."

The Bears certainly added some. In the process, they made the possibility of a defensive renaissance similar to what was experienced on the other side of the ball in 2013 a potentially easier undertaking.

They've planned their work and are working their plan.
The Chicago Bears hold the No. 14 pick in the 2014 NFL draft after putting together an 8-8 record under head coach Marc Trestman and missing the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons, in part because of a traditionally strong defense finally realizing its mortality.

So, similar to the way the club retooled the offense going into 2013, the Bears plan to work diligently on the defense, with the draft most likely focusing on cornerback, defensive tackle, safety and perhaps even linebacker additions.


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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jared Allen easily passed the first test administered by Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery.

Now it’s time Allen proves it on the field.

Allen
Having worked against Allen for several years in Atlanta, Kansas City and Chicago, Emery said he’s seen plenty of game tape of the new Bears defensive end. But just before Emery came out on Monday to introduce Allen, he wanted to take one last look; a “buyer’s remorse check,” the general manager joked. After all, the club had just signed Allen to a four-year, $32 million contract, which includes $15.5 million guaranteed over the first two seasons.

“I always watch one more tape after [a new player is acquired] to make sure that I had all the ducks aligned, and that we are getting the person and the player that we thought we were,” Emery explained.

So the general manager decided to pull tape of Allen from near the end of last season, when a depleted Minnesota Vikings team blasted Philadelphia 48-30, which coincidentally came just a week before the Eagles routed the Bears 54-11 at Lincoln Financial Field. Emery wanted to see how Allen would perform toward the end of the year against Jason Peters, a six-time Pro Bowler.

“I randomly went through his games and I looked and said, ‘I need something at the end of the season,’ to see where his motor was at that part of the year, and I need something against a good opponent; somebody that was in the playoffs,” Emery said. “So I grabbed the Eagles tape. [Allen had] two sacks, tackle for loss, two hits on the quarterback, two pressures. [I ] felt pretty good. So you passed the test Jared.”

Now Allen needs to do that again for a Bears defense looking in 2014 to regain form. Emery has certainly done his part thus far in bringing in new coaches and personnel to help defensive coordinator Mel Tucker put out the best product possible next season. According to Emery, the work isn’t yet done as the club would like to ramp up the competition at a few more spots on defense; a goal the club will likely accomplish with a defense-heavy draft in May.

"Talking with the coaches and the talent that they’ve brought here and after talking to Coach Tucker and [defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni], the philosophy and the menality that they have, everybody thinks that defensive ends, all we want to do is rush the passer. Well, I come from a long line of thinking that you have to earn the right to rush the passer," Allen said. "So we’re going to get after it in the run game. We’re going to be a vaunted Bears defense again and it’s going to start with us up front.”
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Four days ago, in light of news that Henry Melton was the subject of a civil suit, we wrote that regardless of what might take place in a courtroom, the potential return of the defensive tackle was uncertain because of Chicago's unwillingness to overspend.

With Melton posting on Twitter on Tuesday that he's signing with the Dallas Cowboys, let's put it out there right now: The Chicago Bears made the right move despite the fact they'll lose a talented player.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012 but played in just three games last season.
Provided Melton makes a successful return from left ACL surgery, he appears destined to return to the Pro Bowl -- possibly on multiple occasions. But in addition to Melton's small body of work regarding consistency on the field, the Bears held some trepidation regarding his inconsistency off it. Bears general manager Phil Emery mentioned on Jan. 2 concern about Melton's “passion” for the game of football.

It's also why the organization, after gifting Melton $8.45 million last season in the form of the franchise tag, made the conscious decision to not risk wasting money again. Melton was certainly deserving of a major payday considering he was coming off a 2012 season in which he posted six sacks on the way to making his first Pro Bowl. But the Bears got just three games worth of production the last time they invested heavily in Melton, and those three outings likely won't go down as the defensive tackle's strongest performances.

Make no mistake about it: The Bears wanted to bring back Melton, because in Chicago's defensive system, he's the player who makes it all go. But the Bears stuck to their plan of bringing back Melton only at their own price, which is part of the reason he's headed to Dallas.

"Henry, in particular, he has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important," Emery said back on Jan. 2. "And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him [last season]. There was a reason for that investment. The under-tackle position in the scheme that we're in is the engine that drives the defense. When he was in the game, even though from a statistical standpoint he wasn't off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was a very important part of the defense. So he knows, and that has been related to him that we signed you for a reason. Now let's focus in on getting healthy, and obviously he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."

The Bears made it clear from the beginning that they would not spend frivolously to bring back Melton, with Emery saying he “pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that [Melton] was gonna go through [the free-agent] process, and when he got through it, and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time.”

But that time never came because Melton hit the market without the Bears ever making a contract offer, according to an NFL source who said “if you want to sign someone badly enough, you make offers and don't wait.”

Apparently, the Cowboys jumped in quickly with a suitable deal for Melton, who is originally from Grapevine, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, after the defensive tackle also visited with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams. In Dallas, Melton will be reunited with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who served in the same capacity with the Bears from 2010-12, and has called the defensive tackle one of the most natural pass-rushers he's ever coached.

Will Marinelli again coax the best out of Melton in Dallas? That's certainly likely.

But the question marks concerning Melton in Chicago were too significant for the cap-strapped Bears to comfortably make a significant investment in him.
Joseph
Houston
The Chicago Bears acquired versatility along the front four Tuesday when they agreed to terms with former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston on a five-year deal worth $35 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, which includes $15 million guaranteed, according to NFL sources.

Because of Houston’s size (6-feet-3, 302 pounds), he can line up as an interior pass-rusher but his natural position is out on the edge at end where he should be stout against the run. Houston's talents would be a definite plus for a Bears' defense that allowed the most total yards in franchise history, in addition to surrendering 10 100-yard rushing performances, as well as a 211-yard outing by Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.

After failing to entice Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett with a strong offer on Monday, the Bears focused in on Houston, who is coming off a career-high six sacks in 2013, to go with 56 tackles and two forced fumbles. Houston won’t necessarily wow observers with big sack numbers. He's produced seasons of 5, 1, 4 and 6 sacks over his first four seasons in the NFL, while also producing 41 quarterback hurries.

Still, Houston’s lack of gaudy statistics mask the flexibility he gives the Bears not only schematically, but also in what the club does moving forward in free agency and the NFL draft.

If Chicago needs Houston to line up as a three-technique in a pressure package on third down, he’s capable of doing that and being disruptive. On regular downs, Houston is capable of playing out on the end and snuffing out the run with consistency.

The question now is what the Houston signing means for the future of defensive end Julius Peppers. The club is trying to shop Peppers in a trade that won’t ever materialize because of the fact he’ll count $18.183 million against the cap in 2014. So eventually, the Bears will be forced to cut Peppers if they decide (which is likely what will happen) to move forward without him.

But as it stands now, Houston appears to be the only proven starter at defensive end if Peppers isn’t around in 2014. Remember, Corey Wootton, who is normally the starter opposite Peppers is a free agent, who isn’t expected to return next season.

Cutting Peppers with the post-June 1 designation would result in dead money of $4.183 million in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015, but considering his cap figures over the next two years, the dead money still represents a respective savings of $14 million and $16.5 million over two years.

So if moving on without Peppers is truly the plan, the Bears still need to do more work along that front four. Remember, the Bears still haven’t re-signed defensive tackle Henry Melton, and it’s unknown whether they’ll be able to because he’s generating interest among multiple teams.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said that some of the defense’s problems up front last season could be attributed to the club being one defensive lineman short due to injuries.

So while Houston represents a promising start to free agency for Chicago, there’s still plenty left to do to fill in holes along that defensive front.
Disappointment over a potential deal that never materialized with Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Monday didn’t prevent the Chicago Bears from making a couple of cap-saving moves, in addition to shopping Julius Peppers around the league in advance of Tuesday’s start to free agency.

The Bears whiffed -- but not for lack of trying hard -- on Plan A with Bennett, offering more money than the Seahawks, who eventually retained Bennett with somewhat of a hometown discount. But the Bears under the direction of general manager Phil Emery typically devise alternate strategies for adding the players they want in free agency. So while Plan B, C and the other options aren’t fully known at this point, it’s likely Chicago expects to make a flurry of moves in the first wave of free agency and be active all the way through the process.

That’s why the team cut running back Michael Bush -- freeing up $1.85 million in cap space -- released tight end Dante Rosario, and put out calls around the league, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, for a potential trade for Peppers, which likely won’t ever take place. With Peppers counting $18.183 million against Chicago’s cap in 2014, no team wants to take in that salary via a trade. So when a team starts shopping a player, it often results in the club eventually cutting him.

Cutting Peppers with the post-June 1 designation would result in $4.183 million worth of dead money in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015, but given his astronomical cap figures over the next two years, that would still represent respective savings of $14 million and $16.5 million.

But at this point cutting Peppers doesn’t appear to be imminent.

What does seem to be on the way is the re-signing of middle linebacker D.J. Williams. The sides had been in discussion since last week, and negotiations were expected to continue through the weekend. As of Monday evening, the sides -- although still talking -- hadn't come to an agreement, according to a league source who expected a deal to take place late Monday night or early Tuesday.

Chicago also remains interested in re-signing other free agents such as cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackle Henry Melton and backup quarterback Josh McCown. Little information has emerged regarding Tillman’s situation, although he’s been linked to Tampa Bay because of his history with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. The Bears have worked diligently to bring back Tillman, and it’s likely the effort will continue as the cornerback’s prospects with other teams could be limited by his age.

Melton, meanwhile, has generated interest from multiple teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, according to a league source, which would make sense given the defensive tackle’s familiarity with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. That doesn’t mean the Bears won’t be able to re-sign Melton. After all, the Cowboys are tight against their cap, and it’s unknown what kind of money another team might offer Melton, whose value could be diminished since he is coming off an ACL surgery.

As for McCown, as of right now, the Buccaneers appear to be the front-runner to land the quarterback, according to multiple sources, unless another one of the interested teams steps up with a more enticing offer, as the career backup may receive an opportunity to compete for a starting job. According to ESPNChicago’s Jeff Dickerson, McCown’s camp has been in contact with the Bucs, Bears, New York Jets and Houston Texans.

Dickerson also reported the Bears reached out to Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson on Saturday, ostensibly as a secondary option to Bennett, when the negotiation window for unrestricted free agents opened around the league. Although the sides engaged in preliminary talks, as of Monday evening it was believed the Bears weren’t at the top of the list for Johnson, who is widely considered the best available defensive end remaining on the market.

The Bears are also targeting defensive end Lamarr Houston of the Raiders according to a report on the NFL Network.

It’s unknown at this point where that leaves the Bears in terms of addressing needs along the defensive line, but several potential lower-priced options exist, and the salary demands could drop depending on how the first wave of free agency goes.

Safety is another area of need the Bears hope to address in free agency. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Chicago has expressed interest in San Francisco’s Donte Whitner, who would give the Bears an intimidating presence on the back end. A source also confirmed the club’s interest in New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy, who finds Chicago an intriguing opportunity because he’d receive a chance to compete for a starting job.

The Bears ended the day Monday with nearly $10.2 million in cap space, and it’s worth noting the club spent $5.775 million during free agency for the 2013 season on three starters in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Martellus Bennett.

So as the initial sting of losing out on Bennett wears off, Emery said back in January the Bears will still be plenty competitive in terms of putting together a solid team once free agency opens on Tuesday.

We all just have to wait and see.
Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. dropped his Mock 3.0 on Thursday with the Chicago Bears staying true to filling their need at defensive tackle in using the No. 14 pick on Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.
McShay writes: "Donald is a perfect fit for the Bears’ scheme as a 3-technique defensive tackle. I don’t know if there’s been a prospect who has helped his stock more during the draft process than him. He was unblockable at the Senior Bowl, and that, put together with an unbelievable overall workout at the combine. He’s shorter than prototype size, but he has long arms, a powerful upper body and creates a lot of big plays with his anticipation and quickness. FSU’s Timmy Jernigan is a fit as a 3-technique as well, but Donald is a much better finisher as a pass-rusher."


At this point, Donald might make more sense than Jernigan at No. 14 because the Bears re-signed Jeremiah Ratliff on Wednesday, and could benefit tremendously from pairing the young talent with a veteran next season. If Donald doesn’t pan out as a rookie, at the very least he would provide depth at a position that sorely lacked it in 2013 when injuries took hold of the front four.

In 2013, the Bears allowed the most points (478) and total yards (6,313) in franchise history as opponents ran all through through the team's beat-up defensive line and inexperienced linebackers later in the season. Chicago gave up 10 100-yard rushing performances, in addition to a 211-yard effort on Dec. 1 by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins suffered season-ending injuries in 2013, and both are set to hit free agency. At this point, Collins seems to be more likely than Melton to return in 2014 as the latter will speak to other teams on March 8 when the negotiation window opens.

If the Bears brought aboard Donald, and re-signed Melton, Collins, and Corey Wootton, they'd actually field a pretty formidable rotation up front; at least on paper.

McShay and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. have been pretty consistent in their mock drafts with most of them having the Bears using their 14th pick on a defensive tackles.

Uncertainty currently remains a hallmark along Chicago’s defensive line, as the club needs more than just Ratliff and veteran Stephen Paea, who right now are the only defensive tackles under contract. It’s worth noting that Paea’s contract expires after the 2014 season.

“I feel like I can make an impact right away, feel like I can come in and have trust in the coaches and playbook and make plays right away,” Donald said last month at the NFL combine. “I played nose tackle, played a three-man front in the five-tech, three-tech. I moved around in college a lot. So being versatile the way I am, I feel like that’s a plus for me.”

It could prove beneficial for the Bears, too.

Donald, like Melton, lacks ideal size. But the former Pittsburgh star’s first step is off the charts, a trait he shares with Melton, who was the club’s franchise player in 2013.

The Bears want youth on defense, and when you talk to folks within the organization, the words “tough” and “athletic” seem to be a common themes of the team’s vision for the type of players they’d like to add in the future to that unit. Donald certainly possesses those traits.

The league’s rookie slotting system, which would strap Donald to a cap-friendly contract over the next few years, makes him even more attractive.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can’t be executed until Mar. 11 at 3 p.m. CST when new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the second part of our week-long series.

Melton
2014 free agent: Henry Melton

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: 3 games (three starts); 5 tackles, two quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $8.45M base salary, $4,725 workout bonus -- $8,454,725 cash value.

Outlook: Once the negotiating window opens up on Mar. 8, Melton fully expects to start discussing potential deals with other teams. That expectation comes as a result of talks with the Bears that haven’t quite gone the way Melton’s representatives would have hoped, which is understandable considering he’s coming off a torn ACL, and a recent arrest, not to mention concerns about his level of commitment. Bears coach Marc Trestman has raved about Melton’s rehabilitation, and there’s a desire on the team’s part to bring him back for 2014. But with the team tight against the cap, Melton can’t expect to receive a deal anywhere near the $8.45 million franchise tender he signed in 2014, coming off a Pro Bowl season. Melton will have some suitors, and there’s a chance he could come back to Chicago at a reduced rate.

2014 free agent: Zack Bowman

Position: Cornerback

2013 statistics: 16 games (seven starts); 49 tackles, three interceptions (one touchdown), 10 pass breakups, two tackles-for-loss and three special teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary, $65,000 signing bonus and $5,245.00 workout bonus -- $785,425 cash value.

Outlook: Bowman is expected to test free agency, but the Bears want him to return. At 29 years old with 23 career starts over six seasons, Bowman will probably generate interest from teams in need of depth at the cornerback position. The Bears were pleased with how Bowman performed when he replaced Charles Tillman in the second half of 2013, although it’s unknown if the club is willing to offer the six-year NFL veteran anything above a league minimum contract. Bowman’s leverage would increase if Tillman leaves the Bears via free agency. Bottom line: the Bears are a better team with Bowman on the roster in 2014. It wouldn’t take much to keep him in Chicago, but he is coming off a productive season. That is an important factor to remember.

Wright
2014 free agent: Major Wright

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 15 games (15 starts); 117 tackles (97 solo), two interceptions, 1 pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

2013 salary: $1.323M base salary and $5,075 workout -- $1,328,075 cash value.

Outlook: After a solid showing in 2012, Wright came into the 2013 season with high expectations, but regressed to the point at which there’s a perceived need at the safety position. While it appears Wright can be salvaged, it’s expected he’ll test the market because the Bears don’t appear inclined to offer anything more than a veteran minimum type of deal. Wright possesses the skillset to be a solid starter for the Bears moving forward. But his lack of consistency has become such a liability the Bears are likely strongly considering replacing him.

Wootton
Wootton
2014 free agent: Corey Wootton

Position: Defensive line

2013 statistics: 16 games (15 starts); 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 4.5 tackles-for-loss.

2013 salary: $1.323M base salary and $5,600 signing bonus -- $1,328,600 cash value

Outlook: The Bears talks with Wootton have likely not surpassed the exploratory phase after the versatile defensive lineman underwent hip surgery in the offseason. It’s simply too early to tell when Wootton will be fully recovered from the procedure, although given Wootton’s work ethic and physical fitness level, he could be ready to return to the field in June. Wootton proved in 2013 that he can be both a viable defensive end and tackle. The ability to bounce inside and line up at tackle should aid Wootton (seven sacks in 2012) when he enters free agency. Wootton is a talented player with impressive size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) who is extremely well-liked in the locker room. But the Bears will probably wait to see how they address defensive line in free agency and the draft before they make a final decision on the still recovering Wootton. He could be off the market before the draft concludes in early May, but the Bears don’t seem to be in a rush.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of everything going on at the NFL combine, we had to push back the Bears Twitter mailbag to Monday.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.

Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:

INDIANAPOLIS -- Backup quarterback Josh McCown wants to remain in Chicago, but a market that seems to be heating up for his services could change that.

McCown
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht wants to add a veteran quarterback to compete with Mike Glennon, as does new Bucs coach Lovie Smith. Given Smith’s familiarity with McCown from their time together in Chicago, the veteran quarterback is a logical option to battle Glennon for the starting job.

“There’s a lot of positions on our team that I’m sure Lovie would agree that we want to anoint as the starter,” Licht said when asked if Glennon is the starting quarterback. “We want competition for Mike.”

There’s a good chance the Jets could also want competition for Geno Smith, based on a report from the New York Daily News.

McCown produced a 3-2 record last season filling in for Jay Cutler, generating a passer rating of 109 and throwing 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. McCown has expressed a desire on multiple occasions to remain with the Chicago Bears, as he was an integral part of the team's implementing a new offense under first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman.

But the Bears are expected to face competition for McCown, who at this point appears to be inclined to remain in Chicago unless he’s given an opportunity to start or handed significantly better financial terms in a contract than his current team can offer.

“I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or biweekly. I’ve talked to him two or three times, anyway, and I’ve texted with him,” Trestman said Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He’s in the loop into what’s going on. I’ve just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what’s going on. We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he’s going to take his time, see where things are at. When he’s ready to say, ‘I want to come back,’ I know [general manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can, and we’re going to do everything can to make sure he is.”

The Bears haven’t yet submitted an offer to McCown, and because he signed a one-year contract in 2013 under the minimum-salary benefit, the team can’t officially sign him until the start of free agency (March 11), although the sides could agree to a deal anytime before that date. So McCown could be exposed to the market (if the sides don’t agree to a new deal before the league new year), where he’s sure to have plenty of suitors.

“I’d like to see him come back,” Cutler said at the end of last season. “There’s talks about him getting other opportunities, which I think, rightfully so, he’ll have. We’ve had candid talks about what he wants to do. I’ll let Josh address that when he wants to. I know we’d love to have him back. We’d like to have him back in the building. Just the amount of work he does behind the scenes with the younger players and myself, just the experience he brings to the quarterback room, it’s very valuable. We’ll see how it works out. The guys in the locker room are hoping to see Number 12 back next year.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- As Reggie Jordan and a cousin in Huntsville, Ala. pushed furniture into storage, the Missouri Western tight end’s phone rang with a representative from the NFL scouting combine on the other end.

“They actually called because I didn’t respond to the email [invitation to the NFL combine],” Jordan said. “She sent it to the wrong address.”

Jordan made the necessary email correction and received official confirmation of the invitation. Coming from a small Division II school, Jordan was still skeptical. So he called former Griffons teammate David Bass, who just finished up a promising rookie campaign as a defensive end with the Chicago Bears.

“She sent me the email and confirmation, and I was like, ‘Oh, snap. This is amazing,’” Jordan said. “I called David Bass. I asked him if this is the same email and I forwarded to him. He was like, ‘Yeah, this is the email.’”

Jordan said he speaks with Bass often about what to expect as he participates at the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in one of the major steps of the evaluation process leading up to May’s draft. A seventh-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2013, Bass wound up playing 12 games for the Bears and producing a sack, in addition to returning his first NFL interception 24 yards touchdown on Nov. 17 in a win over the Baltimore Ravens.

“He actually tried to explain the whole thing,” Jordan said. “You never get used to it until it actually comes upon you. I mean, he tried. But this is just a surreal experience now.”

It started when Jordan arrived in Indianapolis at approximately 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Jordan spent the entire day at the hospital undergoing combine medical evaluations, and left at approximately midnight. Then, at 4 a.m. on Thursday, Jordan hopped out of bed to take a combine drug test.

At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Jordan projects as a longshot in the NFL. But Jordan certainly helped himself with solid performances Saturday during on-field drills. Jordan ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, 4.30-second 20-yard shuttle, and produced a time of 7.22 seconds in the three-cone drill.

Perhaps Jordan might receive an opportunity to join his former Missouri Western teammate Bass in Chicago, considering the club does have a need at the position. Jordan caught 52 passes for 679 yards and 17 touchdowns during his college career.

Chicago’s roster currently features three tight ends in Martellus Bennett, Fendi Onobun, and recent addition Zach Miller. Bennett and Miller are the only players on the roster with regular-season experience.

“I think I stretch the field well, catch out of my frame,” Jordan said. “I think my blocking is very good. [At Missouri Western] they had me moving all around. I played a little H-back, moved me to tight end, had me out in the flat.”
Chicago plans to stick to its base 4-3 defense, according to a story posted on the team’s official website, and that falls in line with what league sources have said all along about the team’s future, despite recent additions of coaches with 3-4 backgrounds.

At the conclusion of the regular season, rampant speculation circulated about the possibility of the team moving to a 3-4 front after the Bears put up historically horrid numbers during a 2013 season in which they surrendered the most yards (6,313), points (478), and rushing yards in franchise history and rushing yards (2,583). But the club refused to tip its hand as to plans for the 2014 season.

“I can say this: We know we have the coaching ability to move scheme,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said when asked specifically about a potential switch to a 3-4. “We have that kind of intellect in this building. I've said this early on: We're not looking to put a square peg in a round hole. [General manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can to give us the best possible players. I don’t know. Everything is on the table in terms of a discussion. Once we get an evaluation from inside-out of what our players can do, then we’ll move forward with what we can do with them schematically. Part of our decisions and how we move forward schematically will be based on the players that are in our locker room.”

Trestman’s last remark explains why the Bears plan to stick to a 4-3 front: those types of players are what the team has in terms of personnel. Switching over to a 3-4 front would require the Bears to spend at least one entire offseason bringing aboard players that fit that scheme.

The club’s acquisition of former Jaguar Austen Lane on Tuesday provided further evidence of the team’s plans to stick to a 4-3. That’s not to say the Bears won’t experiment. The addition of defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring gives the Bears flexibility if they decide to try different looks based on their backgrounds in 3-4 defenses.

“It’s a matter of being to utilize the people that we have and be ready to do whatever it’s going to take with a system that’s flexible enough to do it,” Trestman told the team’s official website. “It’s making sure we have a scheme that can utilize our players and bring the best out of them.”

Obviously one component of that might involve the Bears veering away some from the defense brought to the team by former coach Lovie Smith. So while it’s likely Chicago will continue to run some elements of Smith’s system, it’s also expected that the Bears will become more multiple to prevent opponents from catching on to what they’re doing on a game-by-game basis.

“We want to be very stout and physical in the run game and then in the passing game be able to pressure with four guys,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told ChicagoBears.com. “Our pressure packages will fit our personnel and be dynamic enough where we can play to guys’ strengths and be unpredictable.”

2013 FA review: OG Matt Slauson

February, 12, 2014
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Money: Signed a one-year deal last March worth $815,000, which included a $100,000 workout bonus with $200,000 of his $715,000 base salary guaranteed. Matt Slauson parlayed that into a four-year deal in January that included $4.9 million guaranteed, which can max out at $13.2 million.

[+] EnlargeMatt Slauson
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsMatt Slauson was nearly flawless protecting Bears quarterbacks in 2013 and has set the bar high on the offensive line.
Stats: None, but as one of four new starters on the offensive line, Slauson played a major role in the club setting several franchise marks on offense.

2013 role: Slauson joined Chicago coming off a 2012 season in which he didn't give up a sack with the New York Jets and became an immediate starter for the Bears at left guard. Slauson left the Jets seeking a more secure future and earned one moving into 2014 by becoming one of Chicago's most consistent performers on the offensive line.

"I told him when he came in that it was our intent to reward him if he did well, and we want him to be a Bear for the longer future," general manager Phil Emery said. "Matt certainly deserves that future with the Bears."

The good: Slauson surrendered just two of Chicago's 30 sacks on the season which rank as the club's fewest since 2008 and the second fewest for the Bears in seven seasons. Slauson was also responsible for two quarterback hits and 15 pressures. Somewhat of a technician, Slauson was flagged just three times all season with one of those penalties being declined. Slauson also served as a mentor for the younger players on the offensive line such as rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills.

Emery called Slauson "A key part of our offensive line improvement. Matt is exactly what we were looking for in an offensive guard in this season; big, long-armed, physical, tough, smart, big anchor point for our quarterback to be able to step up when he has pressure. Can't say enough about him in terms of leadership and fit with this group, and toughness and physical[ity] he brings to the group. When you're a defender and you line up against Slauson, at the end of the day, you know you played a football game."

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler called Slauson "constant."

"Every single day he's grinding," Cutler said. "He was able to show Kyle [Long] what it takes to be a successful guard in the NFL. Kyle was able to see it firsthand on film and be able to talk to him on a daily basis. Matt, I think he enjoyed doing it, being a semi-coach for Kyle and the young guys. I was really excited to hear that he's gonna be here four more years protecting me."

The bad: There's not much, but the Bears did run the football behind Slauson 70 times in 2013 and averaged just 3.61 yards per attempt. So that number could improve. Slauson also joined the Bears coming off a 2012 season in which he didn't allow a sack but gave up two in 2013. So yes, that number is still low. But Slauson has set the bar high in terms of expectations for his performance.

2014 outlook: The addition of Slauson helped to provide the type of stability along the offensive line in 2013 that the club hadn't seen in several years. So the decision to sign him to a four-year deal in January was a smart move on the part of the Bears, and moving forward, durability shouldn't be an issue for Slauson. With Slauson in the mix, the Bears were one of just three teams to start the same five offensive linemen in all 16 games. What's more is Slauson wanted to remain with the Bears for the next several years rather than test the market in free agency in 2014.

"I don't want any part of that," Slauson said. "I love Chicago. I want to be here. My family really likes it hear. I have always said that was a part of the reason I came here. If I get the opportunity to stay, I'm going to jump all over it."
The Chicago Bears finally finalized the defensive coaching staff by bringing aboard defensive-line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring. So what’s the next step?

That remains to be seen, as the Bears have kept everything pretty close to the vest thus far in what’s been a relatively quiet offseason. But remember, it’s still early. This team has lots of decisions and moves to make.

Thanks to everybody who sent in questions. Obviously, we can’t execute this feature without your participation. So we definitely appreciate it.
 
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery has expressed repeatedly a desire for HBO’s cameras to skip his team when making a decision on what club to feature on the reality series “Hard Knocks,” but he may not have a choice in the matter.

Deadspin.com recently pointed out that the Bears could be one of eight NFL teams forced to appear on HBO’s series in 2014. The NFL’s owners passed a rule in October that could force teams to appear on the show if no other club volunteers.

Teams exempt from the rule would be those that have made the playoffs in one of the last two years, clubs with new head coaches or those that have appeared on the show within the last 10 years. Obviously, the Bears don’t fit in any of those categories.

The NFL’s owners passed the rule because in 2012 multiple teams declined offers to appear on the show.

“To me, it’s all about football,” Emery said when asked about “Hard Knocks” back in 2012. “Personally, no. But if that was in the best interest of the club, I’m sure we would all consider it. If that helped bring the Chicago Bears, particularly to our fans in Chicago, we would consider it.”

But Emery hasn’t backed off his general reluctance to have the Bears featured on the show. During a live chat on the team’s official website in September, Emery was asked again about the possibility of the Bears appearing on "Hard Knocks."

Emery responded: “As I spoke about in our first press conference at the start of camp, we are a traditional organization that feels our best connection with our fans is to come down to Bourbonnais, [Ill.], and enjoy the live experience with us. There’s nothing like seeing the team through your own eyes and how it’s coming together.”

But the possibility definitely exists now that fans sitting on the couch for training camp in 2014 can get an even closer look via HBO's plethora of cameras -- if that's the direction the show decides to take.

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